WASHINGTON - A new international group committed to eliminating nuclear weapons over the next 25 years has enlisted scores of world leaders as its campaign gets under way at a conference in Paris on Tuesday.
"The aim is to get to zero," said Richard Burt, the chief strategic weapons negotiator under President George H.W. Bush. Even Iran is considered a potential supporter, he said in an interview.
"If there is growing support by nuclear powers and public opinion worldwide, I think it becomes harder for any government, including Iran, to cross that barrier," Burt said.
The group, Global Zero, is proposing deep cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, a verification and enforcement system, and phased reduction leading to the elimination of all stockpiles.
After the kickoff meeting, delegations will go to Moscow for talks with Russian officials on Wednesday and to Washington to see Bush administration officials and possibly advisers to President-elect Barack Obama on Thursday.
Ultimately, the planners are hoping to stage a world summit in January 2010.
More than 100 political, military, business, religious and civic leaders have lent their support to the campaign.
"In recent months, the threat of proliferation and nuclear terrorism has led to a growing chorus of world leaders calling for the elimination of all nuclear weapons," the group said in a statement announcing its plans.
Listed supporters include former President Jimmy Carter; former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger; former Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci; former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev; Shaharyar Khan, a former Pakistani foreign minister; retired Air Chief Marshal Shashindra Pal Tyagi of India; and Malcolm Rifkind, a former British foreign secretary.
The launching in Paris follows 18 months of consultations among diplomats and military leaders and in effect established Global Zero as a participant in mobilizing efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.
There are an estimated 20,000 or more nuclear weapons around the world. The nuclear-armed nations are the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and, presumably, Israel.
Obama said in July that "as long as nuclear weapons exist we will retain a strong deterrent." But he said of his plans: "We will make the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons a central element in our nuclear policy."
Last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the world's nuclear powers to begin negotiations on eliminating nuclear weapons while assuring other nations they will not be attacked.
Global Zero envisions U.S.-Russian negotiations to cut back nuclear stockpiles to roughly 1,000 weapons apiece, from current arsenals of about 5,000 warheads each, followed by a second phase bringing in countries such as China, Britain and France. From there, Burt says, the aim would be to attract would-be members of the nuclear club such as Iran.